The Gamecocks had a successful week last week, taking down Florida and Ole Miss at home. We didn't pick up any votes in the two major polls (nobody in the SEC did other than Kentucky or Florida), although Lunardi did upgrade us to the third team out of the Big Dance.
The season continues this week with a visit from Vandy and a trip to Kentucky. A win at Vandy will mark Carolina's first three-game SEC win streak in quite some time, so the game is a pretty big deal. Below are short previews for the two games.
Early in the season, I thought Vandy would be a tough match-up for us, mainly because I feared their talented sophomore center, A. J. Ogilvy. However, the rest of Vandy's lineup has failed to come together as they Commodores have moved from a soft non-con into conference play, and with Ogilvy a little banged up and drawing all the attention of opposing defenses, Vandy has struggled mightily on offense. They're fresh off two double-digit losses in the usually daunting Memorial Gym, the second a 94-69 pounding to the Gators.
Vandy is a below-average shooting team this year, so defensively we need to try to keep the ball out on the perimeter and away from Ogilvy down low. Unless the Commodores unexpectedly heat up from downtown, that strategy should allow us to keep them from scoring too many points. If that ends up being the case, we just need to shoot the ball decently well to net a relatively easy victory. As I said yesterday, this is a must-win game; Saturday's matchup with the Wildcats is going to be tough to win, and after that we head to Gainesville for another really hard game. If we can beat Vandy, though, we'll be OK in terms of our bubble position even if the most likely scenario plays out on the road trip and we lose to both Kentucky and Florida.
As said, I don't like our chances in this game. While the Cats started slow again this year, they've got a lot of talent and it's finally beginning to come together under second-year coach Billy Gillespie. Moreover, we don't matchup well defensively against this team, as we don't have the bigs to guard their front court of Patrick Patterson and Perry Stevenson. Finally, the Cats have Jodie Meeks, a player that nobody can guard when he's on. To sum up, the Cats are going to get their points in this game.
That said, all hope is not lost. We have some shooters, and if we get hot and can put up a lot of points, there's no telling what might happen. I like Devan Downey's chances of having a big game against the Cats, as the Cats lack a speedy defensive guard that can lock down on Downey. If Downey can get his slashing game going, he could put up points and open things up for either Zam Fredrick, Evaldas Baniulis, or Brandis Raley-Ross on the outside. If one or more of those guys heat up from downtown, who knows? Maybe we could pull off a huge upset in Lexington. However, this game is going to be brutally hard to win. While I could possibly see it happening in Colonial Life Arena, it's probably not going to happen in Rupp. If we beat Vandy on Wednesday, though, I won't be too heartbroken if we lose to the Cats this weekend.